By Matt Norlander
Every Monday, we’re going to be giving you readers and fans and coaches more and more reason to hate us. How can we do this outside of just being our natural, irritating selves? By ranking as many teams in as many ways as possible, of course. And we won’t reserve our judgment for your scorn in big-boy country. No, we’d like to alienate ourselves to the fan bases around the nation, mid-major schools included.
And there's the nice graphic I alluded to last night. It will evolve as the season goes on, with more things floating outside the Pyramid's walls. Mr. Wooden and Mr. Swanson will never leave you, though. This feature serves as a complement to the weekly Top 25 and One, which you can read right here.
No more ado — here’s how we see it, the 15 best non-BCS teams in college basketball as of Monday, Nov. 28, at 11 a.m ET.
1. Xavier (4-0). A Sentence: Xavier may not even fall from the top spot if it goes 1-1 this week. A Statistic: Six of the next seven opponents X faces were 2011 NCAA tournament teams. The Schedule: at Vanderbilt Monday night; vs. Purdue Saturday.
2. Gonzaga (4-0). A Sentence: Just because you haven’t seen the Zags yet doesn’t mean they’re not elite. A Statistic: Gonzaga has a 61.2 free-throw rate right now, which is very, very good. Second-best in the country, in fact. The Schedule: vs. Notre Dame Wednesday; at Illinois Saturday.
3. UNLV (7-0). A Sentence: You give North Carolina its first loss, there’s no way you’re not skyrocketing to the top three. A Statistic: UNLV has played zero games outside of Las Vegas so far. The Schedule: at UC Santa Barbara Wednesday; at Wichita State Sunday.
4. Saint Louis (6-0). A Sentence: The Billikens are quickly becoming the mid-major team everyone wants to talk about. A Statistic: Rick Majerus’ team hasn’t played a patsy schedule—and it’s beating opponents by an average of 18.1 points. The Schedule: at Loyola Marymount Tuesday; vs. Portland Saturday.
5. Iona (3-1). A Sentence: I’m higher on the Gaels then most, but I actually had to drop them this week after Saint Louis and UNLV put up undeniably terrific wins to remain perfect. A Statistic: This team can fill it up. Iona’s averaging 94.3 points per game, tops in the country. The 21.3 assists per game is second-best nationally. The Schedule: vs. Long Island Monday night; at Canisius Friday; at Niagara Sunday.
6. Memphis (2-2). A Sentence: Tigers looked sloppy and out of sync in Maui, but I do these ratings based on a combination of results, myopia-free numbers and subjective analysis — the last part of this tells me the Tigers are still worthy of this sort of ranking after just four games. A Statistic: Josh Pastner’s team is grabbing just 20.1 percent of its offensive-rebound chances. That is AWFUL; only five worse teams in college basketball right now at chasing after it on the offensive end. The Schedule: vs. Jackson State Monday night; vs. Austin Peay Saturday.
7. Harvard (6-0). A Sentence: I have Harvard ranked one spot below Memphis because I believe if the two teams played this afternoon on a neutral court with no one in the stands, Memphis would win (it’s the last-resort Peter King barometer). A Statistic: Keith Wright and Kyle Casey — the team’s two best players — lead the club in points and rebounds, Wright with 12.2 and 7, Casey at 11.8 and 5.8. As it should be. The Schedule: at Vermont Thursday; vs. Seattle Sunday.
8. San Diego State (7-1). A Sentence: The Aztecs are playing so much better than I expected them to, considering they lost such a high percentage of their offensive production from last year — and all those guys were vital on the defensive end, too. A Statistic: Only five other teams — Mississippi State, Gardner Webb, San Francisco and Maryland-Eastern Shore — have played as many games as SDSU at the point. The Schedule: vs. Creighton Wednesday; vs. California Sunday.
9. Creighton (5-0). A Sentence: The Blue Jays look nice, but SDSU gets a nod ahead of them because the Aztecs’ scalp tally is more impressive (USC, Long Beach State, Arizona, UC Santa Barbara) than Creighton’s (UAB, Iowa, Campbell). A Statistic: Creighton is the best shooting team in the country, putting up a 63.3 effective field goal percentage. That’s just an awesome rate—and it will come down. Only one team in the tempo-free era has ever finished above 60 percent in eFG%. Samford did it at 60.3 in 2005. The Schedule: at San Diego State Wednesday (I love when things line up like this; next week’s ranking of these two teams won’t be as handwringing); vs. Nebraska Sunday.
10. Belmont (2-2). A Sentence: The Bruins haven’t played since last week’s Power Pyramid, and I won’t punish them, as I think Rick Byrd’s team will never — yes, never — leave the Pyramid this season. A Statistic: The 3-point defense must improve. Opponents are hitting almost 41 percent of their bombs against the Bruins. The Schedule: vs. NAIA Trevecca Nazarene Monday night; vs. Kennesaw State Thursday; vs. Mercer Saturday.
11. Missouri State (4-0). A Sentence: Undefeated Bears have my heart right now; I think they’re a very undervalued team that will play itself into an at-large position by February. A Statistic: When you only turn it over 14 percent of the time, you’re going to put yourself in a good position. The Schedule: at Oral Roberts Wednesday; at New Mexico Saturday.
12. Northern Iowa (5-1). A Sentence: Back-to-back Valley teams, and I’m putting UNI one slot below not just because of the one loss, but because that one loss came to a Saint Mary’s team that I’m suspect of right now. A Statistic: Does not bode well: Panthers are a bad, bad rebounding team. No. 308 in the nation in RPG, and they snare just 25.5 percent of offensive misses. The Schedule: at Iowa State Wednesday; vs. Colorado State Saturday.
13. Temple (3-2). A Sentence: The Owls’ loss to Bowling Green sends them tumbling to the bottom of the Pyramid. A Statistic: The statistic is … there is no statistic! Temple’s pretty average across the board right now, even within their own team. Going to need two more games to vet this out, and we don’t even get two games in the upcoming week. The Schedule: at Central Michigan Saturday.
14. New Mexico (4-2). A Sentence: Wins over Washington State, Arizona State and Boston College aren’t really that good … I have no idea what to make of this team, but I’m including it regardless because I like the personnel right now. A Statistic: It is not senior Drew Gordon, but sophomore Tony Snell who leads the team in scoring (15.2 PPG). The Schedule: vs. Idaho State Wednesday; vs. Missouri State Saturday.
15. Marshall (5-0). A Sentence: This is why the Power Pyramid is the Power Pyramid, and what Parrish and Goodman do is their thing — just because Marshall’s undefeated doesn’t mean it should be upper-echelon here. A Statistic: 8-17 is the combined record of Marshall’s opponents right now, and that’s with Cincinnati, the only not-awful team it’s faced. The Schedule: vs. Ohio Wednesday.
Roaming outside the Pyramid:
♦ Western Michigan may be the best 0-6 team in the history of college basketball. MAC West favorite has had the toughest start to its schedule of any team in the country.
♦ I didn’t forget you, Wichita State.
♦ Can’t get Central Florida in, even if the Knights knocked off UConn Friday. Going to have to see more than that — and UConn’s shown it considered its Bahamas trip to be something of a vacation, as the Huskies squeaked by Florida State in OT Saturday afternoon.